Thursday, June 18, 2015

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Thanks for your support!

— Matt

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

God Doesn’t Like RED! (the Failure of “Guilty-By-Association”)

Weird post title?

I agree.

No, I don’t really believe that God doesn’t like red. Quite the opposite, actually.

But… if I am careless (and biased) in my approach to biblical interpretation, I can make a pretty strong case from the Bible that God doesn’t like red. He might even hate it!
Ask a preacher about what God thinks about nakedness, and you’ll almost always hear, “Throughout the Bible, you’ll find nakedness associated with shame. Therefore, nakedness is shameful and wrong.” In other words, Nakedness is Guilty-by-Association.

To start with, it’s worth observing that they will not point you to any Scripture passage which simply and clearly condemns nudity. In fact we can make quite a list of “rules” about nudity that are not found in the bible.

There is…
  • No verse that forbids you to see others naked.
  • No verse that warns you against allowing anyone to see you naked.
The “exceptions” are missing, too.
  • No verse that says you can see your spouse naked.
  • No verse that says doctors are permitted to see their patients naked.
  • No verse that says how young your child may be and still see you naked.
Why don’t they just point to such a verse that forbids public nudity? Simply because there isn’t one.
So, they have to utilize the next best thing… the Guilty-by-Association argument.
“Guilty-by-Association” on Trial
OK… let me say up front that I don’t believe “guilty by association” is any proof of “guilt” at all. Scripture interpretations based on “Guilty-by-Association” are false. I know of no teaching about moral standards—accepted among biblical Christians as doctrinally sound—which is based solely on the “guilty by association” argument.

Wait… I know of one… the argument against social nudity. That’s the only one.

But if “Guilty-by-Association” is not accepted for any other moral teaching, why is it accepted for this one issue? Is “Guilty-by-Association” actually is a sound interpretational means to discern God’s moral perspective on a matter?

If “Guilty-by-Association” is a valid way to interpret the Bible, then God hates RED. And I can prove it!


God Hates RED!

A survey of the Bible shows how the color red is associated with sin or sinfulness.
In the Old Testament:
  • Isa. 1:18 - “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.
    • Obviously, God wants us to know that sin is associated with the color red, for He repeats Himself, comparing sin to scarlet AND crimson.
  • Numbers 19:1-10 – This law calls for the slaughter of a Red Heifer for the sin of the Israelites. The entire animal was to be burned (no eating any part of it) along with some red cloth.
    • The priest who performed the sacrifice was to be considered unclean. Being unclean is obviously not a good thing.
    • Likewise, the one who gathered up the ashes after it was burned was to be considered unclean.
  • Proverbs 23:31 – “Do not look on the wine when it is red…”
    • God’s disdain for the color even extends to what we drink.
  • Genesis 25:25  - “Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau.”
    • Later in his life, Esau sold his birthright for some red stuff.” (Genesis 25:30)
    • No wonder God says in Malachi 1:3, “I have hated Esau.”
In the New Testament:
  • Matthew 6:13 – Jesus said, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’
    • Bad weather is associated with the color red.
  • Rev. 6:4 – “And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.”
    • The Second Horseman of the Apocalypse, sitting on a red horse, bringing war, and death.
  • Rev. 12:3“Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems.”
    • This perhaps the most damning verse of all, for red is the color of the Dragon… Satan himself!
So, in the scriptures, we see a consistent pattern of the color red being associated with sin, sinfulness, Satan, or other bad things. This is how we can know that God hates RED.
It’s Innate!
This is something that God has built into every person, too. Think of these facts about how we respond to the color red in our lives:
  • We naturally recoil at the sight of blood, which is red.
  • When someone gets very angry, we describe them as “seeing red.”
  • If our financial ledgers have a negative balance, we are “in the red.”
  • We use red to tell people to STOP!! And no one likes to be told to stop.
  • Red is the sign for danger.
  • Red is color of destructive fire.
  • Women painted with red lipstick are a source of temptation to lust for men.
It’s easy to see why red has a negative meaning in human society; this is directly the result of the fact that God hates RED!

The Christian who wishes to live a life pleasing to God will judiciously eliminate red from his or her life.



Everything I’ve just written about how God hates the color red is utter poppycock.

Pure rubbish.

Terrible, terrible interpretation.

And it’s because I’ve invoked the “Guilty-by-Association” argument.
“Guilty-By-Association” Fails the Test
Let’s look at how bad it is and why it’s so wrong.
  1. I was prooftexting. I searched for and cherry-picked verses that I could somehow twist into supporting my pre-determined conclusion. If it didn’t support my point, I skipped it.
  2. And that brings me to my next error… there were many references to red in the Bible that are NOT associated with sin or anything bad. So if red is not always associated with sin or bad things, the color itself cannot be the issue!
  3. I lifted the passages completely out of context. I quoted only that portion which I deemed to support my conclusion. Esau was not rejected by God because he had red hair. The red sky at night (as opposed to the morning) indicated good weather to come. There were four horsemen, each on a different color horse.
  4. I focused on the color to the exclusion of any other part of each passage, making it sound like the color was THE reason the text indicated anything sinful or bad.
  5. I paid no attention at all to the fact that there are multiple words that are translated as “red” in the Bible. They are not all used the same way.
  6. I completely ignored the fact that red is a natural color found abundantly in creation… utilized to great beauty in the natural (and very good!) world!
  7. Finally, NONE of the passage were in ANY way given to us to communicate God’s attitude towards the color red!
This is how you make a point using the “Guilty-by-Association” argument. And it is all wrong.
God knows how to declare His standards of conduct. His clear words of moral absolutes are found throughout the Bible. When God doesn’t clearly call something sin or forbid it, then we must not presume to “add it in” using a spurious or false argument to support it.

Nakedness is not a new thing among humans. It is simply inconceivable that God would have failed to clearly state his will regarding nakedness if He really did wish to forbid it (see Inconceivable Omission).

Let’s review how those who use “Guilty-by-Association” make the same sort of errors that I made trying to prove that God hates red…
  1. They use prooftexting. I have seen many people simply list Scripture references rather than present clear interpretation of those verses based on the context. If they do quote a verse, they never present it in its context. When I respond to such folks, I take the scripture reference they’ve given me and quote it back to them in its full context (with an explanation of what it really means), I simply get no reply back! Prooftexting always fails the test of careful and honest exegesis.
  2. There ARE verses in the Bible that present nakedness without any shame or sin associated! Sadly, many of them have been translated out of the English language Bible (See Squeamish Translating) so that the references to nudity that remain in the English translations are mostly negative (Seriously...see Squeamish Translating)! Studying the matter by consulting the original languages reveals this bias against nudity and deals a blow to the “Guilty-by-Association” effort. The fact is, unless all occasions of nudity are equally “shameful,” we cannot conclude that the nakedness is the de facto source of the shame.
  3. Passages about nudity are often lifted out of context. Most notably is the teaching against incest in Leviticus 18… which uses the euphemism “uncover the nakedness of…” for incest (since there is no Hebrew word for “incest”). The phrase absolutely and unequivocally refers to having sexual relations with a close (“blood”) relative (reiterated 4 times in the passage… see Lev. 18:6, 12-13, 17) . Yet those who have pre-determined that the Bible forbids social nudity do not hesitate to rip that phrase in Leviticus 18 right out of its context in their attempt to declare social nudity to be immoral (see also The Meaning of Nakedness).
  4. Opponents of social nudity regularly quote passages of Scripture that deal with nakedness and shame and they invariably assign the shame to the nakedness rather than the behavior of the “shamed” person. The truth is this… every time there’s shame associated with nakedness, there is ALSO a description of the person’s shameful and sinful behavior! It is indefensible to focus on one aspect of an account and presume that it alone is the source for the shame related in the text.
  5. There are a number of words in the Old Testament that refer to a person being without clothes. Here’s another very significant FACT about nakedness in the Bible… of all the Hebrew words that reference nudity, only ONE (ervah) is ever associated with sin and shame! That observation by itself should tell us that simple nudity is not the moral problem Bible people seem to want it to be (see The Meaning of Nakedness).
  6. Opponents of social nudity conveniently ignore the fact that God created Adam and Eve (and all of the other creatures in the world) to live naked and unashamed. It was so significant to His “very good” creation that it merited a special mention in Genesis 2:25. This very positive attitude about His naked creation—expressed by the One who cannot change—is completely ignored and/or discounted. God didn’t change His attitude about the naked human form… people did! (see Who Hates Nudity… God or Satan?)
  7. Finally, there’s not ONE passage in all the Bible expressly given to us in order to inform us of God’s moral view of nakedness (with the possible exception of Genesis 2:25, which affirms the goodness of nakedness). Therefore, each and every passage cherry-picked to make a guilty-by-association argument against nakedness is a passage that was not given to us for that purpose! Again, if God wanted to tell us what His moral opinion is about simple nudity, He could have, and He would have. But He didn’t.
We Must Not Be Hermeneutically Lazy
Yes, we can all see that there are passages where nakedness and shame are closely associated. But nothing is “Guilty-by-Association” when we study the Bible to determine moral truth. Not even for nakedness. It is simply irresponsible and lazy if someone is willing to accept superficial conclusions about nudity based solely on the Guilty-by-Association argument.

As it turns out, “Guilty-by-Association” is the only argument that’s ever been available for use against social nudity, so it’s the only one that anyone has ever heard. It’s been repeated so frequently that no one ever pays attention to the fact that very foundation of the argument is false. Nor do they bother to examine its conclusions and put them under honest hermeneutical scrutiny.

“Guilty-by-Association” is false. It is always false. And it’s high time that solid and trustworthy teachers of the Bible be honest enough about it to lay it aside… even if it means giving up their opposition to nudity.

— Matthew Neal

Friday, May 15, 2015

But We’ll Wear ROBES in Heaven!!

It goes something like this:
“The Bible describes God and Jesus and the saints and everyone else in heaven as wearing clothes! So, obviously, God intends for us to wear clothes here and now!”
It’s an argument against naturism that I haven’t yet addressed on this blog. This was pointed out this some time ago by a reader who commented on my previous post. Thankfully, he was much more articulate and less dogmatic than my characterization above, but he did correctly identify that this was an issue I had not yet covered. Here’s what he wrote:
I have appreciated getting your perspectives as they have challenged assumptions in how I understand Scripture. I have a question that I don't think has been addressed on your blog so far.
Scripture uses a robe as a symbol for our righteous standing before God. Christ's perfect righteousness had been imputed to us to cover our sin, and this is symbolized as a robe of righteousness from God. Also, based on the Book of Revelation, it seems that there will still be clothes in eternity as it mentions people wearing white robes. Even though we will no longer have sin, our clothes may help remind us that we were once sinful and that Christ came to clothe us with his righteousness. Given the symbolic significance of clothing in our salvation, does this undermine the idealizing of nudity?
Thanks so much!
To this reader I say, Thanks for writing! And thanks for your kind words about how the blog has challenged you!
There are more than one thing that I need to say in response to your questions, so let me now address them.
Symbolism Has Its Limits…
The first point is that while the Bible does use physical items symbolically, it is a mistake to treat that item as if it cannot have any other meaning, or that we must be reminded of that spiritual meaning every time we are physically exposed to that item.
For example, Christ used the bread and wine as symbols to remind of His suffering for us on the cross. They are powerful symbols reminding us of His death and shed blood. Yet bread and wine are not without any other meaning and we are under no obligation to remember Christ every time we have a bite of bread or take a drink of grape juice or wine. Bread is used symbolically in other ways in the Bible, and so is wine. And sometime, bread and wine are just food and drink.
In like manner, the fact that we see clothing used symbolically to represent honor and glory—or a “righteous standing before God”—does not mean that that’s the only meaning or purpose of clothing, nor do we have an obligation to intentionally remember or portray that symbolism every time we put on some clothing. The fact is that clothing has many purposes (I did an entire series on that point). Sometimes it shows the greatness of a person, but sometime it tells all that the person is in mourning.
Symbolism is Culturally interpreted!
In perhaps a surprising observation, we see in the Bible that much—if not all—of the symbolism invoked in the Bible actually has to be interpreted within a cultural context in order to understand what God is intending to communicate. In other words, God saw fit to portray human cultural patterns and conventions to communicate to mankind through symbols. Let me give some examples:
  • “… I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.”  (Isa. 6:1)
    • Exactly why does God need to wear a robe? And why a robe with a train? God has no body… right? He needs no robe to keep warm, nor to cover for “modesty’s sake.” And the “train” of any robe has absolutely NO functional use at all… except to draw admiring attention to its wearer. The train comes from a time and culture far removed from ours, and would be completely lost on western culture if not for the fact that brides often wear dresses with a long train at their weddings (for the same purpose).
    • Note, if human culture hadn’t developed kingdoms with royalty wearing extravagantly ornate and decorated clothing to portray their greatness (including robes with long trains), there would be nothing of meaning in God’s “robe” and it’s “train.”
  • “Behold, I stand at the door and knock;” (Rev. 3:20)
    • What is a door but a human invention? What is knocking to seek entry but a human convention?
    • While God has always been eager to fellowship with men and women, the statement found in Rev. 3:20 could not have been spoken with any real meaning by Jesus before doors and knocking became a part of human cultural experience. Doors—we can probably assume—are not a reality in the spirit realm, given the very fact that they are a physical,material device.
So… clothing is used to convey as spiritual meaning… but I don’t believe it will be helpful to explore the various valid meanings for clothing here. The point that is important to make here is that symbolism picturing spiritual truth does not translate into moral requirements about the physical elements utilized for the symbolism.
Symbolism Utilizes Human Constructs.
Undoubtedly, there is some symbolic language in the bible which refers to completely natural events (the sunrise) or entities (animals) to make a symbolic application, but in the main—and certainly with reference to clothing—symbolism representing spiritual truth is based upon some sort of human invention or pattern. In other words, God is using human things to communicate with humans.
This truth explains why we must consider culture when interpreting the meaning of a symbol. Since mankind created the physical picture, (doors, bread, wine, clothing, mansions), God can then use those objects to illustrate heavenly truths.
Here’s the point… the spiritual “pictures” do not define the physical meaning of things—nor do they prescribe their usage—but the physical gives its meaning of the spiritual picture. This is why we can’t use the “clothing of heaven” to conclude any sort of moral obligation for clothing in the here-and-now.
But Obviously, There IS Clothing in Heaven!
Ok… so descriptions of Heaven include descriptions of clothing… shouldn’t we ask what the clothing in heaven for?
Clothing on earth has a variety of purposes (see this series regarding The Biblical Purposes of Clothing), but could the purpose for heavenly clothing be the same as on earth?
  • Is it for warmth? For protection of the body?
    • I highly doubt it.
  • What about for moral purposes… might God be offended by “unclothed” spirits? Will He be offended by an unclothed glorified human body?
    • Just pondering that for a moment reveals how silly that suggestion is.
  • Will it be to constrain sexual lust??
    • That’s not even a biblically valid purpose for clothing in the physical realm, but the suggestion that it would still apply in heaven—after we have been glorified and delivered from the presence of sin in our lives—is also inconceivable.
    • Notwithstanding the ludicrousness of this notion, people still will put forth the apparent presence of clothing on the inhabitants of heaven as evidence that we must also wear clothing to live a righteous life here on earth.
  • Does the clothing of heaven communicate something about the wearers?
    • Ah, now here we have a clear match in the probable purpose of clothing in heaven. The human inhabitants of heaven have been washed by the blood of Christ, and as the bride of Christ, they will wear “white linen” garments… pictures of how their lives have been “clothed” with the righteousness of Christ (the robes are said in that verse to actually be “the righteous acts of the saints,” clearly non-physical in nature.).
Beyond just its “purpose,” exactly what do we imagine that the clothing of heaven is even made of? As I just mentioned, in Rev. 19:8 we’re told that they were white “linen” (reiterated in Rev. 19:14) Linen is made from plants… physical plants. But does that mean that there’s an earthly textile industry with a contract for millions of white linen garments for the hosts of heaven? Isn’t that a question worth asking? Are we really supposed to conclude that this imagery speaks of literal organic linen garments? I don’t think so! That’s not at all the point of the picture. Again, the descriptions of clothing of heaven are given to communicate something about heaven, not to prescribe them for earth.
Actually Naked In Heaven?
Will we morally object to nudity in heaven as we seem to here on earth? There’s no basis to claim so… and I certainly hope that we no longer have hang-ups about the God’s beautiful design of the human form in heaven.
C.S. Lewis effectively communicated the uncertainty of the meaning and purpose—and the substance—of heavenly clothing in his book, The Great Divorce, where he writes of a “bright spirit” seen by his protagonist, who describers her this way:
I cannot now remember whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my memory the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed, then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her inmost spirit shone through the clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and turns them into living organs. A robe or a crown is there as much one of the wearer's features as a lip or an eye. (The Great Divorce, chapter 12)
While Lewis’ imaginations about what heaven will be like are no more “inspired” than anyone else’s, it’s clear the he realized that clothing in heaven must have a completely different meaning and essence than clothing as we know it today.
Again, this acknowledgement underscores the futility of attempting to derive moral absolutes about clothing in the here and now based upon the descriptions of clothing from biblical scenes of heaven.
Are We Supposed to “Remember our Sin”??
You suggested in your comments that clothing in heaven “may help remind us” of our sin… but do you really think that’s something God wants for us to do for all eternity? Don’t you think he would rather we persist for eternity in the righteousness of Christ, restored to sinless fellowship as God intended right from the beginning in Eden? Sin should be nothing more than a distant memory… if a memory at all! Doesn’t even God say that he will “remember” our sins no more?
Finally, you implied that I “idealize” nudity. I’m not sure I would concur with that characterization of my position. I think the problem is that people “idealize” (or is it “idolize”?) clothing… giving it an importance and a moral significance that it simply does not deserve.
The refusal to reject nudity (by idealizing clothing) is not by itself the idealization of nudity.
What I would idealize is the ability—even in a fallen world—to be “naked and not ashamed.” (honestly, that sounds like the Bible “idealizes” nudity at least in some measure!). To be free from shame is God’s ideal for us. To be free from man-made rules of righteousness (such as a moral requirement for clothing) is also a biblical ideal.
So, do I idealize nudity? No. I idealize the casting off of false constraints and beliefs about our unclothed bodies. It only follows then that if we cast off the false, we must choose to live contrary to the false, or else we’re still submitting to the lie (and that is the foundation of my assertion that I am a Naturist By Biblical Conviction).
Thanks again for writing! I welcome your feedback!
— Matt